Grampian Speleological Group Newsletter
Number 102, August 1999


GSG Annual Dinner 1999

You've had plenty of time to reserve the date, now it is time to select your main course and book your accommodation for this year's Annual Dinner. It is being held in the Inchnadamph Hotel on Saturday 30th October. All members, their families, and friends are welcome. A booking form is included. The menu is repeated below so you can remind yourself of your order. In recognition of the date, Halloween fancy dress while not completely compulsory is definitely desirable.

For accommodation your choices are:-

Book your bunk in Taigh nam Famh on the dinner booking form. Contact the Hotel or Field Centre direct at:-

The Inchnadamph Hotel, Assynt, by Lairg, Sutherland, IV27 4HN. Tel:- 01571 822202, Fax:- 01571 822203.

The Assynt Field Centre, Inchnadamph Lodge, Inchnadamph, by Lairg, Sutherland, IV27 4HL. Tel:- 01571 822218, Fax:- 01571 822232, Email:- fs04

GSG Annual Dinner Menu 1999

Scotch Broth
Haggis "sozzled" in Whisky and served with oatcakes
Vegetarian Option

Roast Haunch of Venison served with Redcurrent Jelly
Chicken and Ham Fricassee
Vegetarian Option

Chef's selection of Fresh Market Vegetables

Syrup Sponge topped with Vanilla Custard
Sherry Trifle

Coffee and Homemade Shortbread

For vegetarian options contact the hotel to learn what is available.

Please fill in the form and return it promptly

Include full payment - I won't cash your cheques until October.

Contact the hotel or field centre NOW.

We do not have any rooms reserved.

The dinner booking form includes the week before and after the dinner for the hut. Last year's dinner was 'enlivened' by a rescue, but it also saw the start of the dig that led to the Farr Series in ANUSC. This year let's concentrate (weather permitting) on Rana Hole and achieve the next major breakthrough - to Claonaite 7.



Assynt Digs

Rana Hole - Visited after the spring BBQ in vile weather on the 22nd May, the bottom held a six inch deep pool and the heavy dripping drowned out the 'streamway' sounds reported in the last Newsletter.

In June the northern members introduced Assynt to the Wednesday evening dig concept. Julian Walford, Bob and Rosemary Jones, Peter Reynolds and Robin Forrest met at the fish farm at 7 pm, removed 20 bags of spoil from Rana then adjourned to the Allt for a quick pint before returning home. This proves that it is feasible to leave work at the usual time, drive to Elphin, pick up a ladder and do over an hour of digging. Rosemary admitted that on the Tuesday she was "extremely tired" and perhaps it would be a rare occurrence! They were very impressed with the dig, though the only water that could be heard was a loud dripping.

By July 10th summer had arrived and the drips had vanished. Ivan, Roger, Martin, John Varty, Julian and Jeremy Dixon-Wright (BEC) spent the day hauling 105 loads out. We started with sandbags (large stock supplied at reasonable price by Gadget) and later switched to the more easily filled skips. Only one boulder needed broken and that was done with hammer and chisel. We worked with two down the hole, two hauling and the other two carrying the spoil out to the spoil heap. It was comfortable digging at the bottom and hauling at the top once midge repellent had been donned. Ivan and Roger took some time off to start filling in Mole Hole. This was filled to within 2m of the surface and the various planks carried across for reuse at Rana. On Sunday we were joined by Dave Hodgson for 73 skip loads in bright sunshine before the Edinburgh contingent had to leave. The lowest part of the floor was now a couple of metres below the May level with a large step still to be removed. Nothing could be heard at the bottom.

The following weekend a late start allowed early morning rain to dissipate. Julian, Ivan, Martin and Roger removed 100 skip loads to the moor surface. Graham arrived for some part-time work while Beccy spectated. The side of the shakehole was eroding and slick with mud so a flight of stone steps was started Innumerable sticks were thrown for Gillie. When we arrived the bottom was a two foot deep pool that proved impossible to drain by poking holes into the deep mud, so Julian started by lowering the step. After a tea break Martin continued but the sounds of avalanching rocks soon sounded up the shaft. These were rattling down behind the grids their support having been compromised. Another grid plus Acro prop was installed and digging continued by Roger and Martin at water level on the far side of the pool. Here a body sized hole was excavated horizontally into a phreatic extension of the rift. This is pointing in the right direction - towards Belh Aven.

Better weather on Sunday brought another dose of midges and Roger, Martin, Julian and Ivan back to find the pool hadn't disappeared. The last Acro plus another grid was installed to help support a large boulder. Only another 42 skip loads removed with some extremely watery. We couldn't make the pool drain away. We may need to be more ambitious and remove most of the step to get access to what in the past has been a better drained area nearer the centre of the shakehole. However since this is possibly holding up the whole contents of the shakehole it does have its possible negative aspects. We now need more Acros if further depth in required. The water surface in July was just below the last rung of the ladder. This has 41 rungs so if they are at 10" spacing that makes the pitch 34 feet so far.

On August 21st Martin, Roger and Ivan reinforced by Bob Jones and Peter Reynolds braved the worst midge infestation seen yet to remove 130 bags of spoil. At one point almost everyone was down the hole bagging while those above ran around in circles attempting to outdistance the plague. Roger then had a brainwave and lit a very smoky heather fire that did the trick and allowed hauling to start. We gained almost another metre in depth and have now started digging horizontally as the crawl started in July is opening up as we go deeper. It is easy digging and if you take a pile of bags down with you, two people could make an effective digging team leaving the filled bags to be removed later.


In late June, Ivan introduced Dave Hodgson, Chris Fitzsimmons and guest Harvey Lomas to the worms and Waterslide in Cnockers, and the helictites in Lower Traligill. There the slope down to the upstream sump was covered in a layer of fresh mud. I don't remember seeing so much there before - a sign of changes upstream perhaps. Later that day the first three did a full descent of Uamh an Tartair, Knockan. The water was warm, the sump low and in bright sunshine Dave freeclimbed out of Uamh Mhor clutching at heather, nettles and other similarly 'secure' holds en route.

That's my second trip to the bottom this year, a record number. Usually the water is backed up to the top of the ladder pitch. The 1" eyebolt for this is now hanging on the wall outside the drying room next to the charger. Please replace it after use.


In June Martin Hayes and Malcolm McConville joined Steve Birch for what sounds to have been an intensive weekend's caving in Coille Gaireallach, Skye. Evidently they visited innumerable caves. Some are in Caves of Skye, but quite a few are new discoveries by Steve that are not.


Activity in the last couple of months has centred on Draught Caledonian Cave. The perched sump at the end was eventually siphoned by Malcolm with Goon and Paul Williams in support. It revealed a low silted awkward cavity with a good draught. Down near floor level another draught emanated from a narrow slot. Both point to more cave, perhaps substantially more, lying ahead. Malcolm is now laying plans involving the club drill and Hilti caps to enlarge one or both orifices.

After one of the trips into Draught Caledonian a site about 30m away was given a preliminary poke. It shows some promise and could turn out to be another DC.

West Lothian

Whitequarries Shale Mine - We are giving Whitequarries a rest till colder weather flushes out the carbon dioxide. Research continues, however, and we now have plans for the Dunnet shale workings. This is a lower strata than the Broxburn shales extracted from the workings we reported in previous Newsletters. Goon has found what appears to be one open shaft down into the Dunnet shale workings and that's on our list to investigate.

Hilderston Silver Mine - Roger Galloway and Peter Ireson visited this in June bearing lengths of pipe and hose. They started digging and siphoning in an attempt to reduce the water levels in the flooded passages and perhaps reveal continuations. Some lowering of levels was achieved. At a return visit in July, Goon, Roger and John Varty continued the good work and with the lower levels managed to push both flooded passages to apparent conclusions. Roger's hypothesis is that both are drainage levels and end where shafts have been infilled probably from the surface. There is therefore little likelihood of penetrating any further without a serious dig. A rough line survey was made. Total length is 167 m.

Leven Seat Limestone Mine - Roger, Peter Ireson and Ivan spend a couple of hours looking at its suitability for a SCRO search practice. Just inside one entrance a series of prominent yellow arrows marked out a circular tour. For guidance it beats the lengths of string normally found.


Alum Pot - Roger and Kate descended most of the main shaft - until they ran out of rope for the final pitch. They didn't have any lights anyway!

Magnetometer, Sunset - A June weekend by Roger and Kate this time with lights and enough tackle.

Black Shiver - This fine cave wasn't appreciated by David Robinson who wrote the log report. First they couldn't find it, then he didn't like the crawl, then... This was a partial descent so they never got to the 'best' bits. On Sunday Dave and John Glover had a more enjoyable thrash down Sell Gill Holes.


In August Martin inspected a mining area near Minera, N. Wales. There is a nicely renovated engine shed and a cluster of open shafts with seven second pebble drops. This is close to Lynn Parc cavern.


J.Rat must be running short of lives. He expended another recently. The dig at the bottom of Stock's House Shaft has been going steadily with all visitors to Mendip (including Goon and Tomas {see later}) being volunteered to help. A couple of weeks ago the dig encountered a void. After some clearance J.Rat decide he could get through. As he did so some of the roof subsided on him. According to reports that wasn't really a problem. The real stomach churner was a slow motion avalanche of boulders that started to descend. J'Rat couldn't reverse. Fortunately he managed to squirm forwards into the void and watch the passage seal itself behind him. The other diggers set to with a will, but were convinced that J'Rat had been squashed. To everyone's relief that wasn't the case and J'Rat emerged with hardly a scratch after helping to dig himself out.

A Czech Caver visits Assynt

In March this year a Czech caver, Tomas Svoboda, contacted us via the GSG web site. A member of ZO 1-05 Geospeleos (Czech speleological society) he was coming to the UK in June and wanted to visit as many different caving regions in the UK and Ireland as possible including Assynt. A few e-mails served to set a rough schedule. All went quiet until a message from J.Rat in mid-July said that a Czech digger was on his way with a definite implication that he be introduced to Rana Hole.

The next weekend we (as SCRO members) were in Yorkshire attending a Casualty Care course put on for us by the CRO. On the Sunday several different 'casualties' were distributed in Yordas main chamber for us to practice what the CRO had preached. While attending to one just inside the entrance I heard my name being mentioned repeatedly. It proved to be Tomas who was sampling Yorkshire limestones and had coincidentally stumbled across us. In conversation he told us that he'd caved four times in Mendip with J.Rat - and had been taken digging on three of them! (See previous story). His next objective was Assynt to be followed by a week in Clare before returning home.

Fortuitously Dave Hodgson from Inverness was attending the course. After a quick redistribution of rucksacs and caving gear, enough room was made for him to be whisked to Inverness. A phone call to the Alt found Jake to tell him to expect a hitch hiking visitor to Taigh nam Famh on the Monday.

One week later Jake phoned to tell of Tomas having a great week in superb weather including a night bivouacking on Suilven. However that Saturday Dave had taken him down Claonaite. It proved to be a very short trip which ended with a bad landing in a pool. With an ankle the size of a 'tree trunk' Tomas had to cut short his trip and returned home without visiting Ireland. I'll leave Tomas to decide whether it was good or bad luck that Dave had been at the Casualty Care course. Ivan


Many members of the GSG are also members of other clubs. Here's a report from Nick Williams who is also a TSG member. I've pinched it from the Internet.

The TSG's dig at Dowall Dale Side Pot has gone!

After over three years of concerted digging (scaffolding?) in the upper rift part of the cave, diggers Eddie Mason, Nigel Kinge, Dave ('Titch') Ladell and Nick Williams finally broke through into a large chamber on Sunday 8 August. The chamber is roughly cornflakes-box shaped, 30m high, 20m long and 5m wide. We entered at the top short edge. There's a (very muddy and unstable) slope of boulders from this point down to the opposite corner. As the bottom the chamber closes down to a rift with a waterfall entering part way along. A phreatic tube goes to one side and ends after about 30m in a sump.

Exploration, as they say, continues. Pictures and updates will be posted to:-

Spring BBQ

The day dawned wind and rainswept, and improved only marginally as afternoon arrived and departed. Fortunately the showers then stopped and an erection of ladders and tarpaulin kept the BBQ area reasonably habitable for the cooks - Jake spending more time than most smoking and being smoked. Attendance was seventeen with Pete Dowswell buying the food and assistance being rendered by Carol, Rosemary, and others in the preparation, and all in the consumption. A good evening but disappointing compared to the great weather that we have known in previous years. Perhaps the Autumn BBQ at the end of September will find better weather.


I am proposing a two-week GSG caving holiday to the Vercors region of France roughly from 2nd to 16th September 2000. I was there in 1998 for just under a week to 'suss' the area out, after talking to Malcolm who spoke highly of it from a trip he did some years back. I've also recently spoken to some Orpheus members who were there in 1999, who also had a good time, and thoroughly enjoyed some caves I still want to do. We stayed very cheaply in a large building - Gite would be too strong a word - hired by phone from the UK.

Weather in September is usually quite hot and it is also usually at its driest, but you can be unlucky - we were, last year - it was snowing on the tops.

We think a small and not very hard core will go from the far North, probably not intending to cave every day, but also to walk on the high tops (or lower if snowy). Ideally it would be helpful to put together a larger party with more viability. (Last year 6 people soon became 2, which gets to be a problem as the lights go out!)

The caving ranges from very long horizontalish caves, through mixed vertical/horizontal to deep shafts for those who love their pure SRT.

Getting there is easy - just get in the car and drive for 3 days! Alternatively, flights to Lyon are cheap and then rail or coach to Grenoble, which is just down the road (like 1,500m down!). At this stage I am just trying to elicit general interest. I was then going to send out more detailed ideas including costings and find out what people might like to do:

If people can send me an e-contact then quite extensive material such as cave descriptions and surveys, and bits of maps, can be exchanged. However those not 'connected' can probably find someone else as a proxy. I shall still try to feed general material into Ivan for the Newsletter.

Julian Walford
e-mail: walfords
post: 6 Sweyn Road, Thurso, Caithness, KW14 7NW

Elphin Caving Centre

The main kitchen fridge never recovered after a power cut last month, so we have bought a brand new 11.4 cu ft larder fridge from Comet. We've also invested in their 5 year extended money back warranty. If it doesn't fail in the next five years we get the money back. The new fridge is larger than the old partly as a result of not having a freezer compartment. Since a small freezer could be useful we would like to replace the other fridge with a fridge/freezer. If anyone has a suitable item or knows where one can be found please contact the hut warden. If nothing suitable appears we'll invest in another new one.

Goon has refurbished the historical photographs section, and three displays covering the years 1961 to 1973 now hang on the walls. The Goon shreddies have likewise been 'renovated' and hang in the changing area.

The new tuner/amplifier bought for the entertainment centre proved worse than the old. It received only 1.5 stations and it didn't autotune as advertised. It has been taken south to join the faulty tape deck and for the Hut Warden to harangue the retailer for replacements.

If you are coming to any GSG event please tell the Hut Warden - Peter Dowswell as soon as possible (01592 202627)


Not much to report. The new back door has been painted and will be installed when I've a spare day. An exterior FM aerial was screwed to the chimney - but didn't help the tuner much.

When we arrived in August we found that a fluorescent tube was kaput and one of the bunks had been damaged. If we had know before travelling north both items could have been repaired quickly. Instead they'll have to wait for the next visit. Would everyone please tell us as soon as possible of all wee faults and accidents so they can be repaired promptly.

Though all electrical circuits are protected by the circuit breakers in the porch, a couple have additional fused protection. This has puzzled guests when they have blown. The toilet and shower lights are fused in the loft immediately above the right hand toilet. The drying room, charger and nearby sockets are on a fused spur from the ring main. The fuse is on the wall behind the door from the toilet area. Spare fuses can be found in the porch.


Membership News

Welcome to new members:-

Paul Archibald - A well known face to anyone regularly drinking at the Inch, Paul as well as seemingly renovating the place single-handed is a member of the Assynt MRT. He spent several hours in a tent outside Claonaite last October during the dinner weekend rescue and has been 'rewarded' by a year's prepaid subscription. He's already becoming a Farr Series regular and we have hopes he'll stop off at Rana en route.

Dan Harris and Fiona Ware - are friends of Derek and Liz and have been irregular visitors to the hut. Dan is steadily working his way through the main Assynt caves and is another incipient digger.

Other news about members:-

Congratulations to Anna Whatley and Nick Williams. At 10:20pm, Wednesday 21 July 1999, a little boy, 8lb 15.5 oz. Isaac Joseph Williams, to be known as Zac for short

New Members

Paul Archibald

New Addresses

Chris Fitzsimons, Kate Janossy, David Warren.

Assynt News

Shellfish - The GSG divers - gastronomic sub-section - will have to curtail activities in Assynt. The whole of the north west coat of Scotland was closed to shellfish fishermen from mid-July. Large amounts of amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP) toxins have been found in scallops. The large quantities of ammonia in waste from commercial salmon farms has been blamed by some for ASP. It builds up in algae on the sea bed where scallops feed. The toxin causes severe sickness with headaches, vomiting, limb numbness and memory loss. Irreversible brain damage can result. During a Canadian outbreak several people died. It is hoped that the ban can be lifted in a few weeks after the toxin has broken down. So far only scallops have been affected.

Internet Caving

Thanks to Nigel Robertson for pointing out an excellent series of pages on Ogof Draenen. At the website given below, you can read a detailed description, view amazing sets of photographs by Clive Westlake and Ian Wilton-Jones, look at surveys and even download some of the raw data.

Remember the GSG site maintained by Andrew Brooks is at:-

Email for the GSG can be sent to:- ivan

Email for the Bulletin should be sent to:- goon90


Tell Pete Dowswell (or Ivan) as soon as possible of any other hut bookings. Remember it is first come first served. And don't forget to pay afterwards!

Tell Fraser of any caves you'd like to see on the meets list

Send address list changes and corrections to Ivan

Send contributions to Goon for the next GSG Bulletin!

And fill in the booking form for the Annual Dinner NOW and return it to Ivan